The Threat of Islamic Terrorism
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's and
the cold war over, the international community seemed to be on the threshold
of an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Instead, a new series of
problems was created, like ethnic conflicts, weapons proliferation,
environmental problems, population growth, drug trafficking, and terrorism.
Terrorism, as defined by Title 22 of the United States code, section
2656f(d), is the "pre-meditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated
against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents,
usually intended to influence and audience." Islamic terrorism is a serious
problem for the United States because of the threat to national security,
the safety of innocent civilians, and the foundations of democratic
societies throughout the world.
Most of the Islamic world view the West, especially the United
States, as the foremost corrupting influence on the Islamic world today.
The Hizballah have taken this further by labeling the Unites States as "the
Great Satan."(22) This growing animosity the Islamic nations feel toward
the Western world has been continually demonstrated by the increase in
international terrorism. However, Muslims do not view their actions as acts
of terrorism, but self defense and their religious duty. The Islamic
radical movements main success or failure has been their ability to gain
legitimacy from the general public or from the greater part of it in each
Muslim country.(14) During the past two decades, they have had enormous
success with their ability to present themselves to the Arab and Muslim
world as the true bearers of Islam. They appeal to the lower class due to
the shared resentment of wealthy westerners while the middle class and
intellectuals are drawn toward these radical groups in order to expel
imported ideologies and forms of government(*). Radical Islamic
organizations have declared a holly war , Jihad, in order to bring the Arab
world together and take their place as a world power. In order to
accomplish these goals, these Islamic radicals have mainly used terrorism as
their main instrument of persuasion.
The biggest and most active terrorist organizations are those
which are state funded. These organizations act as both an overt and covert
way of spreading the sponsor countries ideologies. The U.S. Secretary of
State has designated seven governments as state sponsors of terrorism: Cuba,
Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.(13) These governments
support international terrorism either by engaging in terrorist activity
themselves or by providing arms, training, safe haven, diplomatic
facilities, financial backing, logistic and/or support to terrorists.(13)
Iran is one of the most active state sponsors of terrorism,
involving themselves in the planning and execution of terrorist acts by its
own agents and by surrogates such as the Hizballah. Tehran conducted 13
assassinations in 1997, the majority of which were carried out in northern
Iraq against the regime's main opposition groups. An example occurred in
January 1997, when Iranian agents tried to attack the Baghdad headquarters
of Mujahedin-e Khalq using a supermortar. Despite sanctions and foreign
political pressure, Iran continues to provide support in the form of
training, money, and weapons to a variety of terrorist groups, such as
Hizballah, HAMAS, and the PIJ.(13)
Sudan is another large supporter of terrorist organizations.
The Sudanese Government supports terrorists by providing paramilitary
training, indoctrinization, money, travel documents, safe passage, and
refuge. They also condone many of the objectionable activities of Iran,
such as funneling assistance to terrorist and radical Islamic groups
operating in and transiting through Sudan.(13) Since Sudan was placed on the
United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1993, the Sudanese
Government still harbors members of the most violent international
terrorists and radical Islamic groups.(13)
The countries of the middle east have found terrorism beneficial
for many reasons. First, terrorism is an inexpensive alternative to
fighting a war, while still spreading their ideology and advancing their
political agenda. However, defending against terrorism is very expensive;
the United States spends approximately five billion dollars annually to
guard against terrorism.(11) Random terrorist acts cause a great amount of
psychological damage to the target area. Even though terrorism kills
relatively few people, the random nature by which innocent civilian are
killed evokes a deep fear and insecurity upon the population. This form of
terrorism was successfully used to target tourism and the economy of Egypt
in 1997. Publicity is another benefit of terrorism. By involving acts
which are designed to attract maximum publicity, terrorism can bring the
smallest group to the forefront of attention.(22) All this is done while
exposing the terrorist to minimal risk when compared to war.
By secretly funding terrorist organization, the patron state
avoids the possibility of defeat and does not appear to be the aggressor.
Modern technology has now made terrorism an efficient, convenient, and
general discrete weapon for attacking state interests in the international
realm. Furthermore, terrorism causes fear, unrest and hysteria among
civilians of target countries which is the ideal setting to launch
propaganda. Through propaganda patron states are able to organize revolts,
coups, and even civil war.
Throughout history terrorism has only been successful in
prolonging conflicts, as in Ireland. However, technology is constantly
changing the nature of life-threatening hostilities by delivering more
sophisticated devices that cause greater damage. No longer are terrorists
restrained to simple car bombs and explosives; now nuclear, biological, and
chemical weapons are becoming more readily available. The terrorist attack
in Tokyo that injured 5,000 people is an example of this kind of terrorism.
The latest threat is the cyber terrorist, who can corrupt a governments
computer system, steal money, and/or classified information while never
leaving his house. Changing methods and techniques that
terrorists employ today make threat of attack worse than ever. First,
terrorists operate at an international level, no longer concentrating on a
particular region or a country. The dawn of the modern age of terrorism
dates back to September 5, 1972, when the Palestinian terrorists attacked
the Israeli Olympic team in Munich(*). Following this, there has been a
period of hijacking of commercial airlines, which culminated in the
destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Another new aspect of terrorism is the growing possibility of
terrorists making use of weapons of mass destruction-nuclear, biological and
chemical. Also, the governments have to think seriously about the threat of
chemical weapons and biological toxins. Both these types of weapons are easy
to manufacture but have horrifying after-effects on the civilian population.
The Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 by Aum Shinrikyo, the
apocalyptic Japanese sect, showed that the threat of chemical terrorism is
now a reality(*).
For many years, it had been thought that weapons of mass
destruction did not serve the purpose of terrorists, and it was not mass
murder they wanted. But in the modern age of terrorism, one sees a wider
use of powerful explosives that attack mostly the civilian population, and
availability is the only thing that prevents the use of larger weapons. This
trend towards larger attacks is represented by a 25-year low in
international terrorism in 1996, with reported incidents down from a peak of
665 in 1987 to 296 in 1996, there was a drastic rise in the number of
casualties (311 people killed and 2,652 wounded)(16).
The third aspect of terrorism that is new is cyber terror. It
has become very easy to penetrate the telecommunications and computer
systems of nations and also private organizations, and enter new computer
codes that cause the system to shutdown or which make it accessible only to
the intruder. Terrorists use computers, cellular phones, and encryption
software to evade detection and they also have sophisticated means of
forging passports and valuable documents. Similarly, they could even
introduce "morphed" images and messages into a country's radio and
television network, and spread lies that could incite violence. Technology
advancement has made it possible to carry powerful explosive devices in a
purse and explode these at the right place, at the right time.
Another recent trend in terrorism is suicide bombing. Suicide
bombings have emerged as a tactic used particularly by radical Islamic
terrorists. Even though Islam prohibits suicide, these suicide bombers
believe that death in a holy struggle assures them a faithful place in
heaven; thus, by committing this act of war, they feel they are guaranteed
to go to heaven. This method of terrorism is almost impossible to defend
against, that is why the terrorists must be prevented, not deterred.
Many radical Islamic terrorist organizations have developed in
recent years, but the biggest organizations are the Islamic Jihad, Hamas,
Al-Gama'a ai-Islamiyyah, and the Hizballah. These organizations all seek the
elimination of western and Jewish influence, and will not hesitate to do
anything to prevent this.
The Islamic Jihad Group , in Egypt, has been active since the
late 70's, and currently includes two factions. The goal of these factions
is to overthrow the Egyptian government and replace it with an Islamic
state. To accomplish this, the Jihad operates in small underground cells
and attacks high level government officials. Their most notorious acts of
terrorism have been the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, the
1993 attempted assassination of Prime Minister Atef Sedky and the 1993 car
bombing of the World Trade Center(19).
Al-Gama'a ai-Islamiyyah (The Islamic Group, IG) evolved from a
phenomenon of Islamic prisoners in Egypt. After being released from prison
in 1971, they began forming militant groups that operated separately but
were loosely organized. These groups target police officers, liberal
intellectuals, Coptic Christians, and tourism in order to hurt the economy
and rid Egypt of Western influence. The IG's most recent attack was
November 17, 1997, when 58 tourists were killed; this severely impacted
Egyptian tourism for several months.(4)
Hamas is the Arab acronym for, "The Islamic Resistance
Movement," and means courage and bravery(3). This organization has evolved
from the Muslim Brotherhood and was active in the early stages of Intifada,
operating in the Gaza strip and the West bank. The main objective of the
Hamas is a "Holly War" for the liberation of Palestine and the establishment
of an Islamic Palestine. A variety of non-governmental charitable
organizations in the Gulf States, four central charity funds throughout the
world, and Iran have enabled Hamas to become the second most powerful
terrorist organization(3). During Intifada, Hamas claimed responsibility
for 43 attacks that killed 46 Palestinians, and is believed to be
responsible for another 40 deaths.(3)
Hizballah (Party of God) is an extremist political-religious
movement based in Lebanon. The movement was created and sponsored by Iran
in July 1982, initially as a form of resistance to the Israeli presence in
Southern Lebanon. Hizballah followers are radical Shi'ite which adhere to
Khomeinistic ideology.(5) The principle goals established by Khomeinism are
the equality of all Lebanon's citizens, complete American and French
withdrawal from Lebanon, the complete destruction of Israel, and the
establishment of Islamic rule over Jerusalem(5). The Hizballah has tried to
accomplish these goals through the use of terrorism, of which 704 attacks
were committed from 1991 - 1995.(5) The scope and nature of Hizballah's
terrorist campaign reflect its close dependency on Iranian support for both
the ideological and financial levers. Iran donates fast amounts of money to
Hizballah, which among other things funds the movement's health and
education services(22). The funds received from Iran in the 1980's totaled
$60-$80 million a year.
Because of the recent terrorist attacks at the World Trade
Center and foreign embassies in Africa, the United States is aware of the
danger that terrorism presents. Being a politically correct country, no
United States official has specifically named the radical Islamic groups as
our primary enemy. However, the Islamic groups are the only terrorists that
specifically target Americans. The United States now has an official three
part counter terrorism policy that has so far proven to be effective.
First, the US will make no concession to terrorists and strike
no deals. If the US were to give in to terrorists' demands, it would
inspire every other terrorist to commit violent crimes. An example of this
plan is the hostage situation in Peru, where 72 hostages were taken and four
months later a successful rescue took place. The second US policy is that
all terrorist will be held accountable for their crimes in a court of law.
In recent years many international terrorists have been convicted and sent
to prison. The third, and most important policy is to isolate and apply
pressure on states that sponsor and support terrorism and force them to
change their behavior. UN sanctions and the use of military force are now
actively used to force host countries to change their views on terrorism.
Radical Islamic terrorist organizations have the ability and
desire to threaten the United states. Sanctions and diplomatic bargaining
will not solve the problem of Islamic terrorism, yet military force will
only make the problem worse. There will be no resolution to this problem in
the near future, meanwhile the gap between the Western world and the Arab
nations will continue to grow. Without constant monitoring a careful
planning, this could soon turn into WW III.
1. al-Thawriyyah, Fatah al-Qiyadah. Fatah - Revolutionary Council.
Available: http://www.ict.org.il/inter_ter/orgdet.ctm?orgid=2. March 22,
2. Coordinator for Counterterrorism of the State department. Fact Sheet:
Usama bin Ladin. Http://www.state.gov/www/regions/africa. March 22, 1999
3. Al-Islamiyya, Harakat. HAMAS(Islamic Resistance Movement).
Http://www.ict.org.il/inter_ter/orgdet.ctm?ogid=13 March 22, 1999
4. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya( The Islamic Group, IG). International
Counterterrorism website. Available:
Http://www.ict.org.il/inter_ter/orgdet.ctm?ogid=12 March 22, 1999
5. Information division. Israel foreign Ministry - Jerusalem. Hizballah .
Http://www.ict.org.il/inter_ter/orgdet.ctm?ogid=15 March 22, 1999
6. US State Department. "Armed Islamic Group." Patterns of Global Terrorism.
Available: Http://www.ict.org.il/inter_ter/orgdet.ctm?ogid=7 March 22, 1999
7. Erlich, Dr. Reuven. The Beginning of an Internal Dispute in Iran and
Lebanon over the fate of Hizballah in the wake of the implementation of
Resolution 425. ICT Research Fellow. Available:
http://www.ict.org.il/articles/articledet.ctm?articleid=20 March 22, 1999
8. State Department. Anti-US Attacks, 1997. Available:
http://www.state.gov/www/global/terrorism/1997Report/ March 22, 1999
9. State Department. Casualties of Anti-US Attacks 1992-1997. Available:
http://www.state.gov/www/global/terrorism/1997Report/ March 22, 1999
10. Albright, Madeleine K. "Interview on ABC-TV 'This Week'with Cokie
Roberts and George Will." State Department. August 23, 1998. Available:
http://secretary.state.gov/www/statements/1998/980823.htm March 22, 1999
11. Wilcox Jr., Philip C. "International Terrorism" September 12, 1996.
12. "State-Sponsored Terrorism." Available:
Http://www.ict.org.il/inter_ter/st_terror/State_t.htm. March 22, 1999
13. State Department. "Over of State-Sponsored Terrorism" Available:
http://www.state.gov/www/global/terrorism/1997Report/ . March 22, 1999.
14. Paz, Reuven. "Is There an 'Islamic Terrorism.'" September 7, 1998.
Available: Http://www.ict.org.il/articles/isl_terr.htm. March 22, 1999.
15. Schweitzer, Yoram. "Resonding to Terrorism-the American Dilemma."
September 2, 1998. Available:
Http://www.ict.org.il/articles/articledet.ctm?articleid=44. March 22, 1999.
16. "1997 Global Terrorism." Available:
http://www.state.gov/www/global/terroeism/1997report/. March 22, 1999.
17. "Electronic Sources: MLA Style of Citation." Available:
http://www.uvm.edu/~xli/reterence/mla.html. March 22, 1999.
18. "1997 Global Terrorism-definitions." Available:
http://www.state.gov/www/global/terroeism/1997report/. March 22, 1999.
19. "Jihad Group." Available:
March 22, 1999
20. Sinha, P.B. "Pakistan-The Chief Patron-Promoter of Islamic Militancy and
Terrorism." Available: http://www.idsa-india.org/an-oct-5.html. March 22,
21. Sinha, P.B. "Threat of Islamic Terrorism Egypt." Available:
http://www.idsa-india.org/an-nov8-6.html. March 22, 1999.
22. Rajeswari, P.R. "U.S. Policy on Terrorism." Available:
http://www.idsa-india.org/an-nov8-7.html. March 22, 1999